Monday, December 13, 2004

Trust Me – I'm a Professional

This is a written version of a small rant that, for some time now, I've been delivering to my cool sex-worker friends whenever we get to talking about certain behaviors we see in the larger sex-work community. I'm quite sure they're all tired of hearing me go on about it, so hopefully posting it here will exorcise me of some of my tendency to harp about it in person. One does hate to be tedious.

There are lots of women in the world who do sexy stuff for a living, and while I support their right to do so, from a business standpoint, they are definitely not all created equal. I have a way I categorize it. To me, there are people who are professionals, and then there are what I call the "lifestyle girls".

A professional sex worker is someone who cares about doing what she does to the best of her ability, and to that end, she looks beyond the money that's in her hand right this minute. She asks herself: What about tomorrow? What about next month, next year? Where do I want to be, business-wise, and how can I make sure I get there? What are the best strategies for running my business?

Me, I'm a professional. For example, I have a schedule – it's been the same schedule for years now. My boys know when I'm available.
I have an office. Yeah, it's a dungeon – but it's my dedicated space for what I do.
I make appointments with carefully chosen clients, and unless I'm all but spurting arterial blood, I keep those appointments, on time, every time. I admit, there have been some days when I really didn't feel like playing. But I take pride in what I do, so – I get my game on, and I do it. And not in a half-assed manner, either. There is such a thing as chemistry, and I do click with some guys more than others. But if I agree to an appointment with you, and I take your money, I will do my damnedest to deliver a good experience, every time. And you know what? I usually find that I feel extra-good about myself when I can make some magic happen for someone even if I'm not feeling much like a rock star. It's deeply satisfying.

Occasionally, yes, there are unforeseeable circumstances that are beyond my control. But I think I've canceled maybe five appointments in the last eight years. (And it goes without saying that I do not "no-show".) This is the way I run my business, because I am a professional person.

The lifestyle girls, well – that's a different story. That's what I call the women who derive their income from sex work, but who seem to just drift from moment to moment, without any kind of plan about what they're doing. They don't run their business in any ongoing, organized manner, it seems to revolve around whatever the next financial crisis is. The rent is due tomorrow? Oh, guess I better try to work tonight.

So they put a post up on Craig's List, shove their kid's toys under the living room couch, and start sending out their address via email. Or they get a motel room, or whatever. And some guy shows up, and maybe they do what they said they would, or maybe they just try to get as much money as they can, while doing as little as possible. She doesn't take any pride in what she's doing, he sure as hell isn't made happy by his experience, and because the whole thing just doesn't feel right, she tries to numb the critical part of her brain by drinking or getting high. And, as financial responsibilities inevitably come due, the cycle repeats over and over. Unprofessional sex worker has unhappy interactions with dissatisfied clients and resorts to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with it all. Not good.

Now, on an emotional level, I have some compassion for people who, for whatever reason, are caught up in negative patterns of behavior. There are a lot people doing sex work who, though they are not emotionally equipped for it, feel like they have no other acceptable options. I think that's a damn shame.

But on a professional level, these women drive me nuts. Not the truly desperate ones, you understand – the girls on the street, or the really low-end escorts – because I don't ever have any contact with them. But I have dealt with a lot of other women from what I call "the middle-class of sex workers". Nice girls, who were plenty smart enough, and pretty enough, to create a safe and stable business that would support them comfortably.

But a lot of them just can't seem to do it. They'll go along all right for a few weeks, and then you begin hearing about the problems. They make appointments and then cancel them at the last minute, or just fail to show up at all. They don't return calls or emails to make new appointments. If they do see clients, they don't fulfill the job description, and the client is unhappy. Word of all these things spreads a bit, and the phone doesn't ring as often.
And then they realize that, oh shit, the power is going to be shut off if they don't pay the bill right now! So they panic, and in that state of panic they accept a date with a client who, if they were thinking clearly, they would know better than to go anywhere near. They have an unpleasant experience – anything from just emotionally icky to downright dangerous – and coping with that just sets them back even further on the road to stability and physical/emotional safety as a sex worker.

Over the years that I've been doing sex work, I have watched so many different women go through this loop so many times, I can now spot it a mile away. When I was younger and more optimistic, I used to try to mentor women who were engaged in the cycle. I mean, it didn't seem like rocket science to me. Plan ahead, I'd say. Figure out how much money you need to make each week to meet your bills. Schedule yourself days on and days off, so you don't get either burned out or too far behind.

Yeah, that's a good idea, they'd reply. And then the next week they'd tell me about how they blew off an appointment because they were so stoned they forgot about it. Oh, and could they borrow a hundred dollars to pay the phone bill?

I realize I may be coming off like some kind of sex work Uncle Tom here, but that's not what I'm about. There are lots of smart, together women doing sex work. It's just frustrating to watch people squander an economic opportunity for no discernable reason. I'm not saying anyone should do anything they don't want to do. It's crucial to figure out where your personal boundaries lie and work within them. But allowing for that, choosing to stay perpetually on the edge of financial crisis, even though you're capable of generating an adequate income, is inconceivable to me. Why the hell would you do that?

So now when I see someone who's in the lifestyle loop, I just steer very clear of any involvement with them. It may seem callous, but it's like that old adage about teaching a pig to sing. I'm not so concerned about annoying the pig, but I definitely dislike having my time wasted.

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